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Would someone be able to identify this chord for me?

  • A
  • E
  • C
  • F# - bass

I'm sure it's obvious but I can't seem to figure it out.

It's a song in the key of C major. A C major chord precedes it and an F major chord follows it

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2  
there are a couple of ways this chord could be named; knowing the chord(s) that precedes and (especially) follows it would be useful in understanding the harmonic context. –  James Tauber May 12 '11 at 5:35
    
Added the context of the chord to the main article –  David Reynolds May 12 '11 at 15:08
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I love questions like this and would love to see more on music.SE. Thanks! –  Rein Henrichs May 12 '11 at 18:29
    
it would be great to have greater context (more chords before and after) and to know the name of the song or piece. As you can see by the answers, this is not so clear cut. –  ogerard May 13 '11 at 9:39

4 Answers 4

up vote 17 down vote accepted

It really depends on context. It could be an Am6, but this is an unlikely inversion, so probably not. It could be an F#m7b5, especially if followed by some form of B7, where it would serve as a II in E, probably E minor. For other functions of half-diminished chords, see Wikipedia: Half-diminished Seventh Chord. It could also be a rootless D9 voicing with the third in the root, especially if followed by some sort of G.

If you can give us more context, we can better figure out how the chord is functioning and give you a more accurate answer.

Edit for updated question: This is F#m7b5 serving in a diminished function as a chromatic passing chord preceding the F. It could also be serving in a secondary dominant function, as a tritone substitution for the V of IV, if it can be considered an F#7b5#9 in a voicing without the third (think C/F# to better visualize its dominant function). It is described in more detail in the previously mentioned wikipedia article as a Sharpened subdominant with minor seventh, and appears in the Super Mario Bros. theme and The Entertainer (but not followed by the IV), although that section doesn't specifically address its function when preceding the IV.

In any event, I am now curious as to what song this is.

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I was going to mention The Entertainer but it's followed by the V in that context. The I #ivø7 IV is a little different. –  James Tauber May 12 '11 at 16:59
    
@James Yeppers. –  Rein Henrichs May 12 '11 at 17:02
1  
I've actually heard it in a couple of places recently. Here (under the lyrics "There's nothing I can do") and also here (under the lyric "try your very best to hide") Enjoy! –  David Reynolds May 12 '11 at 17:48
3  
@David @James it's literally the notes of F#ø but functionally it's a rootless D9 arpeggio, the V of V. It lacks the chromatic bass movement necessary to really distinguish it as a F#ø. The interesting thing about advanced jazz harmony is that many chords with the same function become more-or-less equivalent. Is it a F#ø or a rootless D9 when followed by a GM7? Whichever. At that point it's more about color, bass movement and voice leading than complex chord names. At least, when I play I tend to think in those terms, and not about the chord notation. –  Rein Henrichs May 12 '11 at 18:08
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@Rein yes, in a way this question and its answers and discussion have been a great demonstration of the inadequacies of traditional chord labeling –  James Tauber May 13 '11 at 14:42

It's an F#m7-5 (F# minor 7, flat 5), aka an F# half-diminished chord. It's the diatonic seventh chord built on the seventh degree of the G-major scale. In root position, it would be voiced F#-A-C-E.

It could also be a D7/9, without the D. In root position, it would be D-F#-A-C-E

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It's just an A minor sixth (Am6). In root position, it would be A-C-E-F#.

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Thanks for adding the context. Makes it much clearer it's a half-diminished seventh chord or, even more specifically in this context, a sharpened subdominant diminished triad with minor seventh.

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